A Full Heart

Photograph of a letter confirming my promotion to Full Professor

Today, at 4pm, I received notice that I have been promoted to Full Professor at California State University, Long Beach.

This is not my first rodeo as full professor (I was full professor for a year at another institution when I was on leave from CSULB) and it’s not the last institution I’ll be full professor at (since I transition at the end of this calendar year to be the Boeing Endowed Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington), but this hits differently because I have been through the entire tenure and promotion process at, and given my heart and much labor to CSULB, an institution which, despite all that institutions represent, contains a community where I have been seen, loved, nourished, and affirmed, in spite of it all.

It’s a big day and it comes at a time of much transition indeed, as I prepare mentally and spiritually for things ahead, as I am on Day 11 of prioritizing the things I love about this work, giving myself grace, and resisting temptations to overwork.

I am grateful that on this day, I am fully present to the culmination of my years of teaching, research, and service to this community. Today, I got to eat lunch and have a mentoring conversation with a former credential student, spend time with research collaborators, and meet with my own femtor and friend. I got to spend an hour and a half on research and got to have my work acknowledged.

Soon, I’ll go to pick up my 17-year old from his last dance practice before the summer break at his studio. To him and my little one, I am not any different than I was this morning. This letter doesn’t mean anything in particular. But, I am most grateful to them and for a partner who has supported me in this journey, even when none of them quite understands why it means so much to me.

I am also grateful to my community who has sourced me and believed in me even when I didn’t know how to believe in myself. I am fully aware that I am because we are, and that no one gets to this place alone.

Finally, I am grateful to my mother who sacrificed a doctoral trajectory to be mother to my brother, whose absence is felt most acutely at these milestones she only gets to witness in spirit. And to my grandmother before her who sent her youngest to study in the US not knowing that someday the baby of the family would be among the few Asian American women who are full professors.

My heart is full of gratitude and love, of community and ancestral strength, of joy and peace.

Onward in community and always in love.

Past, Present, Future

28 years ago, my mom died.

Since then, life has never, of course, been the same.

And this date, February 3, has never been the same.

Some years, it is easier than others.

This year, it has been, in the small hours of the morning, easier than others.

Today, I am miles from home, but I am also home in my heart.

I am years from where I was 28 years ago, much closer to my mother’s age than my age then.

I am someone I hope she would have been proud of; I am someone who is striving to heal us both; I am someone who embodies her courage, her hopes, and her fears.

I am her daughter.

Today, I am thinking about the past and also about a future.

Today, I am living in an abundant present.

Today, I am present to the hope of healing, to the power of community, to the abounding love that surrounds me wherever I am in the world.

I am grateful, even as I remain present to the longing for my time with her.

Today, I will breathe and be. I will take in the joy and beauty around me and partake in it as I know she would have wanted for me. I will be kind to myself and remember to show myself the grace for my humanity that I would show a million others.

Today, I will keep her in my heart, alongside so many that I love and am holding.

I am ready for today.

Stillness, Happiness, Hope

Photo of a small square black card on a red background with "Do what Makes you Happy" written in white script

It is a new year.

For the first time in many years, in the first two weeks of this new year, I have been held, I have been hopeful, and I have been (relatively) still.

I get stuff done.

I am always running.

I am often running from myself, from my fears.

Sometimes, I am running from what my heart wants most, and then running headlong towards it because I don’t know how to move towards the best things in my life with intentionality that honors who I am, what I deserve, and the communities that care for me so deeply.

This year, I want to move differently.

I want to do less. I want to force myself less. I don’t want to settle for less than I deserve.

This year, I am beginning with a pause.

In pause, there is space.

In space, there is creativity. There is beauty. There is hope. There is anticipation.

I am leaning into these things.

I am still afraid.

But I am sourcing courage from those who love me most. I am learning trust. I am trying to be patient.

I am working to do what makes me happy. I am allowing myself to want and to feel with my whole heart.

It hurts sometimes.

But sometimes it hurts to heal.

I am working on being more honest with myself, with my heart, with my limits.

I am being held (accountable) by those that love me more than I know how to love myself, who stand for better for me when I am unable to stand for myself, who are pushing for what’s best even though, in the immediate, it’s not what’s easiest.

The answers are all around me. I just have to look. Today, my daughter bought a box of “Happy Cards.” She left the one at the top of this post on my desk, and when I went to pin it on my cork board, I was reminded of these things:

A picture of two cards side by side, one that says "Believe in Impossible Possibilities" (Eva Evergreen, Julie Abe) and another that says "Create the Life You've Always Wanted" held up by a magnet that says, "Let's Do This"

It is a new year. I am trying new things. I am letting go of things that I’ve held onto so tightly because I was scared that they would slip out of my grasp if I loosened my grip. I am trusting that what is for me will be mine, and what is not for me has still taught me so much. I am breathing in gratitude, even as I feel sometimes adrift is a sea of grief.

I will breathe.

I will be still.

I will move towards happiness.

I will keep hope.

Happiest of New Years to us all. May we all move towards creating the lives that are our heart’s greatest desires.

Recognizing Myself

Photo of a tree on water at sunset. Sky and reflection have purple undertones

When I was in 6th grade, I really wanted to be selected to be our elementary school’s representative to the 7th grade leadership class. I worked so hard all year and when graduation came along, I sat up in anticipation, only to hear Amy G’s name called as the 6th grade representative to junior high leadership.

I have always wanted to be (seen as) a leader.

I have always wanted to be seen.

I decided to avoid leadership until my junior year of high school. Then I tried again. I ran for a senior class office.

I lost again.

Growing up (in a predominantly white suburban community), I wanted to be a cool kid. I wanted to be seen as something more than a stereotype.

I was never the cool kid.

I was always the smart girl (and eventually the valedictorian who lost her mom).

I want(ed) to belong.

I want(ed) to be seen.

I want(ed) to be valued for the things I value(d) about myself.

Many beautiful and good things (have) happen(ed) (even) in a state of invisibility.

Many people love(d) me in spite of myself.

I thought if I accomplish(ed) more, maybe then I would (will) be a cool kid. Maybe then I would (will) be seen.

I have accomplished many things.

I decided I could not wait for things to come to me.

I took unconventional paths. They were not easy. I created ways when there were none.

I did things in spite of what should have been possible.

I am proud of myself.

But 12 year old me, and 16 year old me, and so many parts of me, still are afraid that I will not be seen, that I am not good enough, that because I am not one of the cool kids, I am not anything.

These parts feel these things most when my heart wants something bigger than I know myself to be.

If I play small, if I stay safe, I will not get hurt.

Thankfully, there are people who see me, who remind me that I am not 12, that I am not 16, that I am a leader, that I am enough, even when I am grieving, even when I am scared, whether or not I get the big things I want.

They see me and that allows me to peek at myself.

I will try again.

For them, and for me, and for the me who is still waiting to be chosen.

Tenderness, Tension, Community & Connection: Reflections on #NCTE22

Photograph of a stage with a lighthouse and a circle with the words ¡Sueños! Pursuing the Light and the National Council of Teachers of English logo

What does it mean to dream? What does it mean to pursue the light?

This year’s National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention theme was ¡Sueños! Pursuing the Light. It was the first annual convention held in person since 2019, and it was held in my current hometown of Anaheim, California.

I was on the program 10 times, and had the honor of facilitating a conversation with Dr. Seema Yasmin on her new book What the Fact: Finding the Truth in All the NoiseIn fact, all of the program appearances were an honor: from work related to chairing the NCTE Research Foundation Trustee Board (whose mission is not only to promote research within the organization but also to support the Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color program), to presentations with colleagues and friends who are amazing and brilliant educators, to work with my beloved professional home & family: the Asian/Asian American Caucus, to supporting the work of mentoring and networking (a session I had to bow out of, but to which I hope to return). All of it is important work that is close to my heart. All of it is work to support community & commitments that I hold dear. All of it is good.

But all of it together is too much.

On the night before Day 1 of the conference, I began to lose my voice. By the morning of Day 1, it was almost completely gone. I did not feel sick. In fact, I had recovered from a recent cold, tested every day for 3 days to make sure I was not COVID positive, and felt better than I had in awhile. I thought maybe the laryngitis was a result of new allergy medication I took. But whatever the cause, I could not speak like myself.

I also could not fully rest my voice, given the schedule that I had: a board meeting to facilitate on Thursday, two presentations on Friday and a full Saturday schedule including the MainStage presentation, after an 8am session and before the 11am Caucus Open Forum.

In between all these things, I was coordinating an important, time bound project at work (even with my out of office message on). I was also running into people I hadn’t seen in years who I love deeply in the halls between sessions, snapping a quick selfie and moving on because I had to get to the next place.

As I saw people, those who knew me best heard my voice, looked at my face, had seen my name on the program, and said, directly and indirectly, that they were worried about me.

I was not in my body enough to worry about myself.

Finally, as I was leaving the Caucus Open Forum on Saturday at noon, my friends, Jung and Grace, told me that I needed to duck out of my scheduled session to eat and to rest. They knew I had another 3 commitments in the afternoon/ evening and that I would have just kept pushing forward if they didn’t forcibly stop me.

So, I excused myself from the session & was given so much grace by the session organizer, ate some food with Jung & Grace, got a couple of books signed, saw some really lovely and dear friends, then went to rest.

Then I got up and did the rest of the conference like I had done the part before Jung & Grace’s intervention.

Except…

My very last session of the conference was with people who I consider family. It was a small session, mostly just the presenters and a few dear friends. So, we chose to forego the typical academic format, and talk truthfully and justice, grief, healing, community, family, rest, resistance, humanity, dehumanizing institutions, and how we live our truth. It was a healing and authentic space where I could breathe.

And yet…

In that session, there was a moment where I began to choke on my own breath. I tried to take a sip of water, but I began to choke on that too. I left the room, sat on the floor outside the door, in the registration hall, and coughed until I was crying. A woman I did not know began to approach me to see if I was okay. I signaled that I was, because physically I knew I could recover myself, but I realized that I also was not. I was not okay. I had fallen back into the trap I know so well. Doing, doing, doing to the point that I was choking on the very things that gave me life. I could not be with the things that I needed to live.

Breath.

Water.

Community.

My body knows more than my mind. It was telling me that I am human, that I cannot do all the things. But I refused to listen. I had gone on autopilot.

When I give control of my body over to my mind, I can run on reserves until I am a literal shell of myself. My voice was silent and then strained. But I would not stop talking.

So, my body made things that should be automatic and reflexive: breathing, drinking, swallowing, into things that had to be intentional. I had to slow down. I had to pay attention. There was no other way.

My dear brother, Shamari K. Reid, reminded me that I, like so many other women of color, have to slow down, have to stop, pause, breathe, rest, or we are enabling our own death. We become complicit alongside the institutions that would kill us. I know this, but when he reminded me, I felt it.

My dear sister, Sakeena Everett, reminded me that so many people want me to live. But that if I am to go, it is my children, my own family, that will not be able to replace me.

They said these things in love, with tenderness but firmness, with conviction and care that called me in, to myself and to community.

It is up to me to listen. It is up to me to live the life I choose, to model what I wish for those I love. They are looking to me. I am looking at myself.

There was much joy at NCTE this year, so many moments of reconnection and community. There was abundance, but I wonder how much richer those interactions could have been if I had allowed myself the space, time, rest, grace that I deserve as a human being. I wonder how much more present I would have been with pause.

There is always tension when one loves, between depth and breadth, between others and self, between fragmentation and wholeness.

I am navigating this tension, imperfectly.

In this tension, I am grateful for the love and tenderness, the grace and understanding of those around me, the strength and reminders that I have much to live for and strength to choose.

I will need help. I truly believe that without community, I would not be. I never want to disappoint anyone. I will need to know that the bond we share is not dependent on doing, but on being. Or perhaps I will need to let go of the energy to maintain so many strong bonds and let go of commitment, but remain always with affection.

It is hard. It is a lot. I do not know. I cannot yet feel the answer.

So, I return to this:

What does it mean to dream? What does it mean to pursue the light?

I do not know yet, but I know it cannot be done without space and the courage to come out of the darkness.

All the Things, All the Time

Stack of papers and multicolored files

Today was a day like all my days used to be.

This morning started off with a 2-hour working seminar with my French colleagues in French. I’m grateful and excited for our collaboration, but I also was extremely stressed about how this would go since I’m only used to functioning in French when I am actually in France, not when I’m in the states and thinking all the time in English. I’m also not yet fully adjusted to speaking about my research in French so everything takes longer and is more tiring.

In the 20 minute break between the seminar and my next meeting with the current dissertation student I’m working with, I ate, because I couldn’t eat anything before the seminar because eating is hard when I’m nervous. I was also trying to work on revisions to a draft statement on censorship for the state organization I lead.

Then I met with my student and had a good talk about how she can move forward. She was really encouraged to hopefully start interviews for her study early next week. (Later she would find out that the “interviewees” with whom she had hoped to conduct her interviews were likely bots or trolls.)

The AERA (American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting) notifications began rolling in around this time. 1 accepted roundtable and an additional role as a discussant. A little disappointing in some respects (particularly regarding a panel that I felt confident would be accepted and wasn’t), but on the other hand, a little relieving, as I’ll be able to attend sessions and reconnect with people for the first annual meeting in a very long time.

A mid-afternoon appointment led to moving remote offices multiple times in the afternoon and I began to fall behind on the slippery slope of e-mails and meetings (as my phone was also blowing up with text messages).

Before I knew it, it was time to pick up my son and shuttle him to TaeKwonDo, while grabbing In N Out drive thru and eating in the car.

After I drop him off, I usually find another “remote office” (often a Starbucks) to catch up on the e-mails lest I become buried alive. But, two of the myriad texts were requests for support from my dissertation student (regarding her interviews) and a lecturer colleague (and former student, about an incident in class).

After two femtoring calls (both of which were on hard, human topics that are exhausting to navigate on one’s own) in the hour and a half at TaeKwonDo, it was time to go home.

The e-mails were still there.

But, so was my little one who could not decide on dinner after her soccer practice.

I made her some scrambled eggs, with a side of grape tomatoes and milk and, finally, the e-mails.

Now, the e-mails are “done” (are they ever done though?) and I am about to begin a “long weekend” but there are two meetings that I could not fit in anywhere else tomorrow (and maybe a third on Saturday) and a couple of things I have to catch up on.

Where is the time to breathe? Where is the time for rest?

It is there to be claimed.

I have realized that I rest in this writing. Not in all writing, but certainly in the flow of these words onto this blog. It is sacred space and sacred time. It is restful.

So in the midst of all the things and all the time today, I am, in this moment, choosing me.

And that is a small, but significant, victory.

Cultivating New Things

Photograph of a ginseng plan in a colorful pot with a rainbow colored kite made out of popsicle sticks and with googly eyes and a felt mouth behind it on a wall

My dear friend Ale gave me a ginseng plant for my birthday.

When she gave it to me, she laughed because she knew I would be surprised.

I don’t do well with plants.

I support the life of my family and dog, but they also advocate for themselves.

Less so with myself, and even less so with plants.

But she said to me, “It’s low maintenance and it’s symbolic. You water it like once a week, and it can make it for a little bit if you don’t water it enough, but if you over care for it, it will drown.”

Hmmm, symbolic indeed.

I do not know how long my plant will live under my care, but I know that I must move past my fear of cultivating new things.

I have never wanted to do things I’m not naturally good at.

I have more than enough to do, with things I’m fairly competent at, so why try something new that I could fail at?

Except…that this means I hold myself back from things I want (to do, to be, to try) because, “What if?”

What if?

I told my husband the other day that I am struggling with rest. I get the idea, but I am inconsistent, at best, with execution.

He said, “Well you can’t get good at it if you don’t practice.”

This, of course, is logical, but also counterintuitive for me.

I want to magically master rest, after years of hyper-productivity.

It seems silly as I look at the words on the screen. I’m laughing at myself a bit. It’s cute that I’m operating in magical thinking and it’s great that I am being honest about what I want.

But I know that old habits die hard. I know that baby steps are still steps. I know that commitment + accountability + daily progress + not giving up when I take a big step back (but treating it as a reminder & learning experience) will be the key to mastering rest, like I have mastered other things.

I know I will have to slowly let go of things I’ve held on to for so many years, that have been critical to my survival.

I am trying to cultivate something new.

It is scary.

It will take practice.

I will forget and be reminded by those who love me.

But, in the end, I am hoping for something new, something beautiful, a life that may be flawed, but is also full of peace and rest and joy.

Pause, Listen, Breathe, Be

Photograph of 3 koi -- a white, an orange and a orange and white koi swimming in green algae filled water near rocks

This morning, I was having a hard time settling.

October is going to be a busy month and the past couple of weekends I’ve had to push my boundaries on working because some things just didn’t get done during the week. So I felt myself pulled back to doing, and began to feel a lot of stress around not knowing what to do. I had to do something. I had to be productive. I had to get some work done.

I have done a lot of self-work (and community care and mental health work) and I am in this inquiry around what it means to choose myself and my humanity, so instead of finding something to do (there is always something to do), I paused, ate, showered (because returning to some form of water always centers me) and breathed.

It is October 1.

A year ago today as I was leaving Paris for Bordeaux to meet new colleagues, a trip I lovingly refer to as “my midlife crisis trip,” I got the news that my father died. I wrote about that morning, and the initial complexities of that loss here.

A year later, my sister is with her mother in Bangkok so that they can be together on the one-year anniversary of his passing. I am at home and will continue celebrating my birthday tonight and this weekend. My kids have soccer and dance practice today. Life continues.

My body remembers and tries to protect me in the best way it knows how to survive. We push through. We work. We produce something when we feel like nothing because it is what has kept us alive all these years. We numb the emotions because there is no time, no space, no room for our humanity, if we want to survive.

But what has kept me alive has also kept me from choosing myself, kept me from my choosing my full humanity, kept me from thriving.

Pause, listen, breathe, be.

I make myself a hot cup of “Paris” tea. I remember that I am in the middle of reading the remarkable Year of the Tiger .

There is time.

There are ways we know to choose ourselves.

My body begins to relax, to remember that we are going to be okay, that we are learning to trust ourselves.

Pause, listen, breathe, be.

I can choose to thrive, moment by moment. I can choose to make space for all the parts of me, all the emotions, moment by moment.

Pause, listen, breathe, be.

Decoupling my worth from my work

Photograph of a Japanese garden

It’s not so simple to navigate decoupling one’s worth from one’s work when you’ve spent your entire life working to prove your worth.

Conceptually, I’ve been on this journey for awhile. I understand that I am worth more than my work, that my work doesn’t earn me “worthiness points,” that I am not more loved or more lovable when I work harder, or that if I am, it is a shallow love based on productivity and not humanity. I know these things.

However, I’ve realized, in putting boundaries on my work, in order to achieve a balance between getting things done and being present to the world I walk in, that there are many things I’ve confounded with work and with worth…like writing.

I haven’t wanted to write recently, because writing felt like work, because in fact, writing is part of my work. But writing, in reflection, while always pushing me to grow, both personally and professionally, isn’t always work. In fact, it can help bring me to myself from a space where I am spinning, trying to find the grounding I need — something that work used to help me avoid, because there are healthy and unhealthy ways to make the spinning stop.

I can use work to distract myself (because there is always work to be done), or I can breathe into the space and be with what is there.

When I am present to what is, what is there needs a place to go, and when I am sad, that place to go isn’t through spoken words. It comes through writing, or through song, or through tears, or through cooking. It has to be transformed; it is energy that goes into creation or expression in one way or another.

I am learning to come back to myself.

I am reminded that I am in my writing.

But I am also giving myself grace as I grow. I will find times where I forget myself in my writing. I will have times where writing is labor and not expression; I will write for work just as I write for myself.

There are also other ways to come back to myself.

I sing, I cook, I cry, I laugh, I spend time with those I love.

I am still growing. I will probably have periods when I overwork. I will be too tired to write. I will forget myself. I will go back instead of forward.

Writing will not disappear. It will be here when I return.

I will not disappear. I will be here when I return.

 

What I Learned from 9 Days with my 7 Year Old

Photo of the author and her daughter standing in the reflection on the Mirror d'Eau in Bordeaux France

You can learn a lot from a 7 year old in 9 days.

I just returned from a 9 day trip to France (Paris, Bordeaux & small villages/ beach towns in the Bordeaux area) with my daughter. (I wrote about how going on the trip itself was already a big deal before it happened here.)

I knew I would learn a lot.

I knew I would heal.

But I still was not prepared for what I am taking away from this time and the ways in which it was transformative. Recording these things here for accountability and remembering:

1) There is so much to be gained from presence and an abundance of time

I did close to no work for 9 days, which, for those of you that know me, or read this blog with any regularity know, is transformative and borderline miraculous in and of itself. I glanced at e-mails and sent a few, but I didn’t open my laptop for 8 days, to the point that it was down to 1% charge when I finally checked the battery before our return flight home.

Not working gave me space and time to be present with my daughter, to be fully attentive to her, and to the space around me. It freed me up to breathe deeply, listen to my body, eat mindfully, care for her, spend time fully with others. I was not perfect. There were moments when I got bored and looked at my phone, but I was, to a remarkable degree, there during those 9 days. I remember them. I cherish them. I was not irritated when she asked me to play with her. I just was with her, and enjoyed her.

2) I am actually a really good mother, who is generally doing too much

I have doubted my ability to mother since I first became a mother 16 years ago. This was devastating to me because I have always wanted to be a mother. What this trip helped me to realize is that I can be an excellent mother, when I am present.

I am, on a day-to-day, regular basis, a fine mother, who is extremely overwhelmed with competing demands, but I absolutely know my children, love them, and want the best for them. It is just not easy to be the mother they need me to be when I am on a (often self-imposed) deadline or when I am trying to think deeply. Seven year olds (at least, or especially, mine) don’t like waiting (even a minute). My daughter wants attention and presence all the time, and while that’s not possible in the same way it was for the last nine days, it can be possible.

3) I am human

It was an excellent trip, but not perfect. I messed things up, took wrong turns, got really stressed at one point because things weren’t open and I got locked into a particular idea (while hangry), and my daughter kept reminding me, “Don’t freak out. We’re all human, Mommy.”

Yes.

And in that humanity, I need space and time to recharge. I need people who I love around me. I need other adults who I can trust and be fully human with.

4) Things that I want are more possible than I allow myself to believe

While we were on our trip, a little boy asked my daughter if she wanted to play. He asked her in French, which she doesn’t understand, and when I translated into English, he said brightly, “Oh, you speak English! I was born in Texas.” I spoke to his mother and learned his family had moved to Bordeaux a couple of years ago, he was in a local nearby school, and they happened to stop by the playground on their way home.

This interaction touched me a lot. It made me realize that community has a way of finding you wherever you are and that living internationally is a real possibility (even when you have a family, and although it’s incredibly challenging). This gave me a lot of hope for a future that I want to believe can be possible, and faith that however things turn out will be okay.

5) I am deeply loved, but I cannot be (and am not, in fact) everything to everyone (or anyone even) and that’s okay

My little girl had a hard time without her Papa. I anticipated being away from him for 9 days would be hard, but I didn’t anticipate how hard. She is much more accustomed to my being away for several days, and while she misses me, she’s generally at home, and I am traveling. This is the longest trip she’s ever been alone with either of us, and it’s the longest time she’s ever been away from home. She was in a country where she didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the language. It was a lot for her, the whole time, and she handled it like a champ, but it was still a lot.

I could not be her Papa or take his place (nor would I want to), but we made it through, with lots of hugs and lots of love shared between us.

I know I am embraced by community at home. In fact, in less than 24 hours, I’ve had a friend come by, an amazing Zoom call with my sister-friend, felt the love of my family, and had multiple texts that remind me how loved I am.

I’m also embraced by my community in and near Bordeaux, who have showed me so much love, thoughtfulness, grace, and generosity.

This love, across two countries, has allowed me the space to see that however I am works, that I will be loved when I complain, when I am frustrated, and when I am sad, just as much as I will be loved when I share joyful moments and laughter.

What a gift this trip was for me. What important lessons for me to have learned. And one more lesson: that I must embrace the moments I’m given, living in them, not beside them, in my body, and not just my head. This will take work, as I have largely survived through thinking and disembodied movements in the direction that others want me to go, but I have seen the other side, and it is beautiful, even as it brings its own challenges.